Book Review: The Greatest Hindi Stories Ever Told by Poonam Saxena

 

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  • Publisher : Aleph Book Company
  • Year of Publishing: 10 October 2020
  • Genre: Anthology, Translations, Collected Short Stories, Hindi Short Stories, Classic, 
  • ISBN-13 : 978-8194735304
  • Price: INR 699/-
  • Buy Link: Amazon

 About the Book


The twenty-five stories in The Greatest Hindi Stories Ever Told represent the finest short fiction in Hindi literature. Selected and translated by editor, writer, and translator Poonam Saxena, and ranging from early literary masters of the form such as Premchand, Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, Bhisham Sahni, Harishankar Parsai, Mannu Bhandari, and Shivani to contemporary greats such as Asghar Wajahat, Uday Prakash, Sara Rai, and others, the collection has stories of darkness, hope, triumph, anger, and irony. In Premchand’s ‘The Thakur’s Well’, ‘low-caste’ Gangi struggles to find drinking water for her ill husband; in ‘The Times Have Changed’ by Krishna Sobti, the matriarch Shahni bids a heart-breaking farewell to her village during Partition; Krishna Baldev Vaid’s ‘Escape’ is a telling story about women’s yearning for freedom; Yashpal’s ‘Phoolo’s Kurta’ is a sharp commentary on child marriage and notions of female modesty; in Bhisham Sahni’s ‘A Feast for the Boss’ and Usha Priyamvada’s ‘The Homecoming’, ageing parents find themselves tragically out of sync with their family; Amarkant’s ‘City of Death’ looks at the fragile thread that holds together communal peace; Phanishwarnath Renu’s ‘The Third Vow’ features the lovable bullock-cart driver Hiraman; Bhagwaticharan Varma’s ‘Atonement’ and Harishankar Parsai’s ‘The Soul of Bholaram’ are scathing satires; and ‘Tirich’ by contemporary writer Uday Prakash is a surreal tale—these and other stories in the collection are compelling, evocative, and showcase an unforgettable range of brilliant styles, forms, and themes. 


About the Author 

POONAM SAXENA is a journalist, writer, and translator. She worked with the Hindustan Times for several years, first as editor of Brunch and then of the weekend section. She has translated Dharamvir Bharati’s Gunahon ka Devta from Hindi to English (Chander&Sudha), Rahi Masoom Raza’s Scene: 75, and co-authored filmmaker Karan Johar’s memoir, An Unsuitable Boy. She lives in Delhi.

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Review

Let me start with a confession here - Aleph Books has some of the best line up of books especially in translated literature. For someone like me who loves translations, their whole range of titles is made up of my favourites.

Also, I love the attention to detail they give to the collections they bring out. Each and every collection of stories published by them, has some of the most heart-warming introductions. It is like as if the editor or the person who chose the stories for the anthology is having a heart-to-heart conversation with you, the reader.

They have ensured the same thing in this collection as well, which starts with a poignant introduction where Poonam Saxena shares with us her love for Hindi literature and then tells us the story of how she chose each piece for this collection and why. This introduction is extremely evocative and heart-felt. It tugs the heart of a reader in the right proportions and also, prepares us for what to expect next.

With a eye-catching cover in popping pink, this collection is inviting. As you read the stories one by one, you remember the story behind the story shared by Saxena in the beginning of the book and cannot help but wonder at the effort taken to piece story after story to form such a brilliant collection.

None of the authors in this collection need any introduction. They are stalwarts in their own way and have contributed immensely to the Hindi literature. What is admirable, is the effort taken to pick some of their lesser known works and bring them to foray through this collection. Needless to add, the stories are timeless and still retain their charm. Apart from some stunning pieces of work to read, this collection is also witness to the journey of Hindi literature over all these years.

Between these pages, one can witness the social ethos of our country, closely. The stories explore a gamut of themes. Ranging from Partition to communal tension, the stories deal with it portraying sensitivity beautifully well. While addressing marriage, relationships and family issues, the stories have the ability to stay relevant even in today's times. 

The translator has made an effort to retain the core essence of these stories and not let their meaning get lost in translation. Some of the stories are from an era gone by, and yet their retelling feels fresh and enjoyable. Every story can be called a perfect helping, which can be read at a pace the reader decides to. You can simply pick any story for the day, read it before you go to bed and allow the writer to take over your senses as you dream about a world that is so similar to your present world and yet to distinct. I enjoyed doing so, every night. This book was like my own window to the world of myriad colours filled with human emotions and invisible bonds. 

The narrative is strong and layered, giving the characters ample opportunity to showcase their growth and bond with the reader. Most of the stories are such that they stay with you, long after you are done reading the book. Hindi as a language is extremely powerful and to find equally powerful words to display the perfect emotions for a scene is not easy. Saxena does a stupendous job here, by being able to pick the right words to bring out the real meaning of a story for a reader. 

It is not surprising to read about issues that plagued our society - child marriages, dowry, widow remarriages, social discrimination, casteism etc. Some of these are a thing of the past, while some are still prevalent today, sadly. This book can be easily called report card for us as society when it comes the growth we have made so far. And at the same time, it is also a mirror which shows us our flaws. Not to forget, at some places it does look like a beautiful picture which needs to be framed for future reminders as well.

Overall, a stunning collection which should be in every book-lover's collection!






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